Rainbow Flag on West Bank Barrier Touches Nerve for Palestinians

Palestinian protesters paint over a gay pride flag in an act the artist describes as reflective of 'absence of tolerance in Palestinian society.'

AP

AP - Palestinian protesters whitewashed a rainbow flag of gay rights that was painted by a Palestinian artist on six slabs of the West Bank separation barrier.

The artist, Khaled Jarrar, said Tuesday his art was meant as a reminder that Palestinians live under Israeli occupation, at a time when gay rights are in the news after the U.S. allowed same-sex weddings.

But protesters perceived the painting as support for homosexuality, a taboo subject in Palestinian society where gays are not tolerated.

The artwork ignited angry responses among Palestinians and activists whitewashed the flag on Monday night, just a few hours after it was painted on the best known section of Israel's graffiti-covered barrier, next to a portrait of Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian leaders.

Jarrar, 39, who has exhibited in Europe and the United States, told The Associated Press that the destruction "reflects the absence of tolerance, and freedoms in the Palestinian society."

"People don't accept different thinking in our society," he said, adding he drew the rainbow flag on the barrier to put a spotlight on Palestinian issues.

Palestinians paint over Khaled Jarrar's rainbow flag painting on West Bank separation barrier. AP.

Mohammed, who only gave his first name for fear of repercussions, says he helped whitewash the flag because "we cannot promote gay rights."

Mohammed al-Amleh, a 46-year-old lawyer, also approved of the action, saying that "it would be shameful to have the flag of gays in our refugee camp."

Gay Palestinians tend to be secretive about their social lives and some have crossed into Israel to live safely.

Homosexual acts have been legal in the West Bank since 1951, when law banning them was repealed. In Gaza, meanwhile, a ban passed by British authorities in 1936 remains in effect.

Israel, meanwhile, has emerged as one of the world's most gay-friendly travel destinations recently, in sharp contrast to the rest of the Middle East where gay culture is not tolerated and gays are persecuted and even killed. Earlier this month, over 100,000 people attended a gay pride parade in Tel Aviv.